Fire Pit Cooking Fun

Chris Dodson/flickrEver get the feeling that adulthood, with all its responsibilities, has put your sense of adventure on the back burner? Well, summer's a time to try something new. Why not expand your horizons by experimenting with a new type of cuisine? Your backyard fire pit offers more than just good looks, you know. Try grilling, roasting, and even baking over its open flames. Great for paleos, vegans, gluten free-ers, and omnivores alike!

About Fire Pits

While the dictionary defines it as "a pit dug into the ground or made from stones, in which a fire for cooking food is made," today a fire pit is so much more. Built of natural stone or trendy concrete, permanent fire pits are designed to form an attractive part of the outdoor hardscape. Like a traditional fireplace, they offer a cozy, convivial gathering place for friends and family or a tranquil spot to sit alone and gaze at the flames. Fire pits also provide a convenient heat source that extends the usefulness of your yard long past summer's balmy days.

Another fun way to use your fire pit is to cook meals or treats on it. Most fire pits have the capability to burn either charcoal or wood, so you can relive childhood memories of grilling hotdogs and baking s'mores over a campfire, right in your own backyard.

What You'll Need

1 Fire Pit

Optional accessories:

Utensils -- You may well already have the basics on hand ... like grill tongs, a long-handled spatula, meat fork, and a sharp knife.

Skewers -- Choose either bamboo disposables or metal. Metal skewers are reusable and therefore more eco-friendly. (The downside is you'll have to wash them but don't worry; they are dishwasher-safe.)

Grill Basket -- When you're cooking small tidbits like chicken tenders or marinated mushrooms, a grill basket will let you flip your food easily without fear of dropping it into the blaze.

Cooking Grate -- Perfect for larger hunks of goodness like steaks or whole eggplants, the best grate is one that washes up with a simple hosedown.

Pie Iron -- Creative outdoorspeople use these for everything from your basic grilled cheese to elaborate homemade pizzas (yum!), lining with foil for easy cleanup. Fire pit hash browns, anyone?

Cast Iron Skillet and/or Rotisserie -- The truly adventurous can experiment with roasting whole turkeys or baking cakes for fabulous fireside feasts.

Get Your Fire On

When you're going to be cooking over a fire, stay away from chemical fire starters, which are potentially toxic. Instead, make sure that your firewood supply is seasoned and completely dry so that it will light readily. Stack it pyramid-style, allowing plenty of space for oxygen to get in.

For kindling, small dry sticks are a tried-and-true method. If you need an extra boost, supplement with a few chunks of charcoal.

Add wood as necessary through the course of the cooking but avoid 2 newbie pitfalls -- don't smother the existing flames and, OTOH, don't let your fire blaze up too high. Nice glowing embers cook the best.

Fire Pit Safety Tips

Never position a fire pit on a wood deck or directly atop your lawn. A stone, tile, or concrete patio is the safest spot. Make sure that there is nothing flammable (overhanging branches, for example) nearby and that your fire pit is at least 10 feet from your house.

Keep a close eye on children and pets the entire time your fire is alight. Teach your kids the essentials of fire safety.

Burn only hardwoods. Softwoods, paper, or trash may give off sparks. Avoid pressure-treated wood, which will offgas VOCs.

Use wooden-handled utensils. Plastic will melt when it comes too close to the fire, and metal will get too hot. Soak the wood handles in water for 1/2 hour before use.

Keep a shovel and hose close at hand to put out any flare-ups. When your cooking fun is over for the night, douse the fire with water and stir with the shovel to ensure it is completely extinguished. Make sure that ashes are fully cool before you dispose of them.

Laura Firszt writes for

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